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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with David Haugh.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak 

The sports media business can be a perplexing, convoluted, confrontational, defy logic type of place. It’s a business not for the faint of heart or for someone who doesn’t like to be criticized. It’s also a place where (unfortunately) rational thought, common sense and a willingness to simply do the job that you are being paid to do is becoming a rare occurrence.  

The Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh is an exception to this trend. Despite being both a reporter and a columnist, Haugh never gives you the impression that he’s a reactionary.  He never writes from the standpoint of trying to grab a headline or to become the hot topic on the latest sports talk show. Reading him, even if you disagree with what he says, you get the sense that at least he’s taken time, sometimes a lot of time, to think through his opinion… his point of view and you rarely if ever, see him voice a personal opinion when he’s covering a game. He saves his opinions for his “In The Wake of the News” column. He understands there’s a division between the two roles and they are best served by remaining separate. 


The Tribune's David Haugh speaks to WSI's totally biased Sox Fans!

Haugh has been covering Chicago sports for eight years, since he was hired as the Bears beat writer after the 2002 season. In addition to the Bears beat, David has covered at length, the White Sox 2005 World Championship season and the recent Blackhawks Stanley Cup crown. Before his stint at the Tribune, he worked for ten years at the South Bend Tribune where he covered Notre Dame football, had his own column and did his own radio sports talk show.

Haugh also brings to the table something that not a lot of other regular members of the sports media can say; because he played sports at a high level. He went to Ball State where he played safety on the football team for four years, being named All-MAC in 1989. He was also a first team academic selection in the MAC three times. After Ball State he attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University where he picked up his master’s. He’s accomplished a lot, at the relatively young age of 40.

David took the time to speak with me from his home in the Chicago area in mid June. We talked about the business that we’ve both made our living at, about the future of the sports media in this technical age and a lot about the White Sox….from the soap opera that is Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen, to who may become the next G.M. of the White Sox to what may happen the rest of this strange roller coaster of a year.

ML: Reading your bio I got the sense that while you were at Ball State this itch to get into the sports media business began…or did it start to happen sooner for you? 

DH: “I always liked to write and yes this started for me before I went off to college. When I was in high school there was a “career day,” so I contacted the sports editor of the South Bend Tribune and asked if I could come in and follow him around to see what he does and what it’s like being in the newspaper business. Because I played football in high school and then at Ball State I was in the news a lot in the area and he kept in touch with me. One day out of the blue, he called and offered me an internship. It was unexpected but sometimes those things happen and that’s how it all began for me.”

ML: Having played sports in college I imagine that gives you an edge in the sense that you know some of the things the guys that you are reporting on are going through. I guess empathy is the word that I’m looking for. There’s nothing that says just because you haven’t played college football or major league baseball that you can’t be a good reporter or a good broadcaster, but I have to think knowing what it takes to play at a high level helps when you are reporting.

DH: “It doesn’t hurt. I know that it’s helped me understand what’s going on better, what it’s like for these guys. I mean I know what it is to get beaten for a touchdown on national TV, I know what it’s like to work a whole season and then lose in a bowl game. I think those experiences help when I approach them to talk for a story. But I want to make sure everyone understands that I never have thought that what I’ve done compares to playing in the NFL for the Bears for example. That’s a completely different situation.”  

ML: And how did the job come about for the Tribune?

DH: “I was very fortunate. I was working for the South Bend Tribune and had a column with that paper and Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath was familiar with it and with me. Bill Gleason told him about me and apparently for a few years had been telling him about me. Dan called me in 2002 and asked if I’d like to interview for an opening they had for a columnist. I did but didn’t get the job, it went to Mike Downey. But it turned out that I was offered the beat writers spot covering the Bears. That was a little different situation for me since I had never been a beat writer before but I was able to adapt. I was the beat guy for two years, branched off into enterprise writing about two years and then back to Bears columnist for three seasons and became the ‘In the Wake of the News’ columnist last Labor Day.”

ML: The sports media takes a lot of shots from fans today, I know that when I read the attacks it bothers me because I take pride in what I do and think there are a lot of very good people working in it but I’ve also got to admit when I see some of the things that pass for sports journalism today…well I understand where the criticism is coming from. A lot of fans at White Sox Interactive talk about the idiocy that is Jay Mariotti and shows like “Around The Horn” and “First Take” on ESPN.  They talk about the lack of folks willing to go on the record in stories… that a lot of sports journalism is “a source close to the situation…” and that a lot of folks working in the business simply don’t prepare like they should.  And don’t get them started on the ‘sensationalistic’ aspect of covering sports today. When you see or read items like that what do you think? 

DH: “Those are good points to be sure. For me personally I ignore what fans write or say about me. I stopped reading things like that about a year ago. I say that with respect, they are certainly entitled to their opinions. It’s an overall trend today among fans, if you write a column it has to be ‘negative.’ If not they say you are ‘soft’ or a ‘populist.’  Sox fans wanted Kenny Williams fired, they wanted Ozzie Guillen fired, they wanted Jake Peavy traded and they want writers to say the same thing. You have to find your place and there’s a place for everything in the business. I’ve written some negative pieces sure, but I try to be responsible and fair. Today in this “twitter” society everyone wants you to be profound, quick, immediate and precise. It’s simply not realistic to think you are going to please everyone regardless of what you write.”

ML: At least you don’t have to be concerned anymore about the Tribune Company owning the Cubs and the conflict of interest there. Not saying that you or anybody on the sports staff has been ordered to write certain things or slant coverage but perception is reality and that union of the two groups just opened up a lot of speculation. I’m sure it made some things more difficult.

DH: “Yea it does. The sale alleviated it. When Tribune Company owned the Cubs that issue from my perspective was a nuisance.”

ML: When you are covering something, is it fun for you?

DH: “That’s a great question…I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that before.”

“I think like any other job some days its fun, some days it’s a job. “Fun” is a difficult concept to think about when you’re in the middle of the situation. I’ve just come off six weeks of covering the Blackhawks run to the Stanley Cup. It was the most fun I’ve had covering a story since the 2005 White Sox but you don’t really realize that until you look back and reflect on what has happened and what you’ve seen. I know now that I’ll always savor having the chance to be a part of things like that.”

ML: A lot of people are very concerned about the future of the business. Just in the past few years the Tribune let go or gave a buy- out package to talented people like Melissa Issacson, Ed Sherman and Bob Vanderberg.  Mark Gonzales and I think Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times told me the problem is that newspapers didn’t understand the internet and gave away their produce for free…now it’s too late. You can’t start charging internet readers. Are you worried? And I guess the new reality has forced folks like you to become proficient at appearing on TV and going on the radio as well. The days of “just” being a newspaper reporter are gone.

DH: “I teach a journalism class and I tell my students that you can’t change the way things are today. But there are two things you can do to give yourself an opportunity today. The first is to always give the effort; the second is to be versatile. You need to understand the electronic media and if a situation comes up where you have a chance to do something you have to be able to do it. Never refuse an opportunity no matter what it may be.” 

“I consider myself a proud representative of the Chicago Tribune but when I write something or go on Chicago Tribune Live! for example, I’m also branding myself. My credibility is on the line and I can’t embarrass myself. I always prepare for anything that I have to do regardless of the medium.”

“I understand that people say it’s a bad age for newspapers but you know what, because of the internet when I do a column or write a story it’s also reaching more people than I ever could before. My stories on the Blackhawks championship run were being used by six newspapers to give you an example. I don’t get caught up in how bad things are; I look at the good things that are taking place.”

ML: Let’s shift gears and talk White Sox baseball. It’s been a season so far dominated by three issues. First is the relationship between Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen. Second was Jerry Reinsdorf’s response to the issue and third the up and down performance by the team itself. Let’s start with the big one, Kenny and Ozzie, a situation that broke into the mainstream media in early June after the draft. You’ve followed this story, talked to people in baseball…what’s going on?

DH: “There will always be some friction with Ozzie because of his personality so that was always there but it became more personal in early June because it involved his kids. That would be the case for anybody, when your family gets involved it cuts a little deeper. Lately Kenny and Ozzie have been saying the right things and I think they’ve reached an understanding but to me, it still might be better for everyone if at the end of the year, Kenny was moved up into a special advisory position and Rick Hahn became the new G.M. taking over the day to day operations. I think the more distance between the two may not be a bad thing.”

ML: When the Sox were in Washington D.C. Jerry Reinsdorf took the unusual step of talking to the Chicago media before a game where he specifically addressed the issue. To me I felt he tried to give an honest appraisal of it but also I got the sense that he put both men on notice. I’m not saying he told them he’d fire someone if it happened again but I do think he probably got the message across that if either Ozzie or Kenny were to do something that wasn’t professional he wouldn’t hesitate to get involved again and both guys probably wouldn’t want to risk the consequences if he had to.

DH: “I think it was about time he stepped in. I’m glad he did it. It was nice to see an owner get involved in something like this. Some folks say that he was meddling in the day to day operations but to me he showed leadership. That’s what a good, strong owner should do. This was his franchise… his investment was somewhat at stake and he wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing.”

ML: Kenny’s career as G.M. has been markedly different over time. From 2001 through 2006 he never had a losing season and won the World Series. From opening day 2007, he’s had two losing seasons in the three completed, including the worst White Sox season in 20 years, a playoff appearance and a quick exit. What has happened to where this team has struggled on the field for the past few years? 

DH: “I think that Kenny probably got a little cocky. He figured that every move he made would be great and that just didn’t happen.  You look at what happened after the World Series…they were still sweeping up the confetti from the parade when he traded Aaron Rowand and completely changed the chemistry of the club. That’s absolutely nothing against Jim Thome but trading Rowand was symbolic, this was going to be a different team with a different style.  There was a dramatic turnover on a World Series championship team. Not saying that Kenny didn’t deserve the trust from the fans, he earned that but five years later you look back and wonder. He just never has been able to get the right mix back in the team since then and he hasn’t had the firepower offensively.”

ML: Another area Sox fans are furious about is accountability for fundamentals especially since that’s the way Ozzie wants to play the game. For the past few years he’s talked about it a lot in the off season, Mark Gonzales has written stories about how the team works on fundamentals in the spring…yet every year this team can’t bunt, can’t execute a hit and run, has major issues getting runners over and home with less than two outs. Because the Sox have had different players since 2007 I’ve got to wonder if these guys are simply, and I want to be clear on this point, “baseball” stupid or is the coaching staff just doing a bad job of actually teaching what needs to be learned?

DH: “Good question. I know it gets tiresome to see Ozzie always talking about how the Twins are always able to do these things; talking about the “Twins-way” of playing the game. Why aren’t the Sox like that if Ozzie wants that style? Why aren’t people in Detroit, Kansas City and Cleveland talking about how the White Sox can win games playing that style?”

ML: Speaking of the offense. This year it was dismal in April and May and fans started calling for the head of hitting coach Greg Walker again. It’s sparked passionate debate at White Sox Interactive. Some feel hitting coaches have little to do with how a player performs; that ultimately it’s up to the guys who play. Others say, if that’s the case, why have a hitting coach at all? Use the money for something else. They also say when you’ve had the consistent troubles the Sox have had since 2007, even if it’s very unfair to Greg, there’s a time when you have to make a change even if it’s simply change for changes sake. Your thoughts on this area?

DH: “I understand the fans who say doing something is better than doing nothing, but Greg is fine. I understand why the organization hasn’t changed anything at this point. Most of it is mental with hitters and a lot of the guys, especially veterans, have their own people that they can go to if they think they have to talk about hitting and want another opinion. Greg does a good job and he keeps an upbeat attitude around the team. He’s a steady force on the coaching staff.” 

ML: I don’t know how much you read other writers or web sites but I saw something interesting right before the season started at the CBS Sports site. They had a writer rank the G.M.’s. Usually I don’t pay a lot of attention to that stuff but his comments about Kenny’s philosophy caught my eye and I wondered what you thought. The author said, and I’m paraphrasing, that Kenny puts a team on the field every year able to win 85 games and that he figures once every four or five years, they’ll overachieve, win 94 games or so, make the playoffs and then you take your chances. The author said that was an odd philosophy for a “big market” team to have. Is that generalization accurate? And do you consider the Sox a “big market” team in the first place?

DH: “I did see that story. I think the Sox are a big market team in part because Kenny always makes bold moves…isn’t that what big market clubs do? Kenny has always made moves for today, to try to win right now and he doesn’t worry about tomorrow. Sometimes he gets criticized for that. Over his time here he always seems to see what the club does from April to June and then he reacts aggressively, that’s his track record.”

ML: The Sox have had two losing seasons in the last three and there is certainly a chance they'll have another one this year although this red hot streak (Author’s Note: This interview was conducted on June 21st) has put them in a situation to completely change their fortunes, if they can keep it going. Before the hot streak, fans were upset, attendance kept dropping, the Sox minor league system still isn't producing major league talent in quantity or quality and the Sox operating philosophy of "revenue minus expenses equals payroll" precludes them from being aggressive players in the free agent market for a possible "quick fix" to give the minor league system time. Sox fans for decades have shown they will not support a losing / mediocre product. How can this organization turn this situation around given all the issues that seem to be pulling against one another and complicating everything? It's been a downward track since opening day 2007 especially if they go on to have a 3rd losing season in four years which again may not happen after all.

DH:My first and most honest reaction is it's too early to draw a conclusion over this season in light of the recent win streak. It could be a moot question if this continues...so I guess I'm reserving judgment.” (Author’s Note: Let’s hope David doesn’t have to ponder that difficult situation in a September column!)

ML: Final question David, any “predictions” on how the rest of this crazy season will go for the Sox?

DH: “I have no idea how the Sox will do the rest of the way. Ozzie was right, they are just like the Chicago weather…you don’t know from day to day. If the starting pitching can perform the way they have been the past few weeks they certainly are going to be right in the race through September. If you can stay in the race and have it come down to the final few weeks, you never know, they could surprise and win the division. That would be a great accomplishment considering the way they played the first two months.”

 


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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